Je'lon Hornbeak got his braces off in seventh grade.
Since that day, his grandmother asked him to wear a mouthpiece and worried when he didn't. They paid “too much money for those teeth” for Hornbeak to chip or lose one in a basketball game.
Then, during OU's 90-76 win over Baylor on Saturday, with his grandmother watching in the stands, Hornbeak's feet got entangled with one of Baylor's reserves.
“I tried to break the fall with my teeth,” Hornbeak said with good nature after Oklahoma's ninth conference victory.
Hornbeak's spill resulted in a trip to the dentist Saturday evening, where he got his two chipped teeth fixed — he posted a picture of his freshly repaired pearly whites on Instagram later.
After his spill Saturday, Hornbeak will be added to a small list of Oklahoma basketball players who will have a mouth guard.
But that doesn't mean he'll wear it.
Wearing a mouth guard isn't uncommon in college basketball. While it is mandatory in college football, there are not similar rules for college hoops — although Oklahoma athletics trainer Alex Brown does strongly encourage it.
Both starting forwards Amath M'Baye and Romero Osby have a mouth guard. So does Andrew Fitzgerald, Ryan Spangler and Buddy Hield, according to Brown. But just because they have them doesn't mean they wear them in practice and games — or keep them in their mouths.
“Buddy wore one once he got braces,” Brown said. “The problem was he played with it so much it'd be in his hand when he was supposed to be handling the ball.”
A basketball player and his mouth guard are like a baby with a teething ring. It's more of a chew toy.
Take Thunder star Kevin Durant. Oklahoma City fans know their star wears a mouth guard because they see it hanging from his mouth and he's constantly chewing on it — same with Clippers star and former Sooner great Blake Griffin.
So why do some of the best players in the professional game today wear them?
Brown isn't quite sure, but believes a lot of it has to do with how a mouth guard can protect from a concussion. That's why, he said, you see boxers wearing them. Brown actually told Griffin after a nasty concussion in college that he needed to wear a mouth guard, and he's noticed Griffin has worn one ever since.
Why don't college players wear them?
“They don't really like them,” Brown said. “They make it problematic for talking on defense.”
And mouth guards also make it harder to breathe through.
It's also the same reason not all players wear eye goggles. Nobody thinks they need it until they get their eye gouged.
“Hindsight really is 20/20,” Brown said.
Now that's the case for Hornbeak. The freshman guard said he thinks it will be best to wear a mouthpiece from here on out.
“I'm trying to put some fangs on them,” Hornbeak said, “Or maybe a little ‘OU' ...”
Whatever gets him to wear it.